Do BCAAs Have Calories? Settling the Debate Once and for All

January 13th, 2017|Supplementation, Nutrition|
Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness

Do BCAAs have calories?

Countless times we have seen this question get asked by people trying to build muscle or lose fat and, usually, incorrectly answered, which is why we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to settling this debate once and for all.

But before we do that, let’s quickly look at what BCAAs actually are.

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are amino acids which have a non-continuous link of carbon bonds (i.e. a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms).

The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are classed as essential amino acids, which means that they must be ingested by humans since they cannot be made by our bodies.

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness BCAAs

Unlike whole proteins or most other amino acids, BCAAs are, generally, not metabolized by the liver directly but, instead, are transported to muscle tissues where they are oxidized by the muscles.

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Do BCAAs have calories?

Okay, so let’s get to the point! Do BCAAs have calories?

Yes, they absolutely do!

According to scientific research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, BCAAs have the following approximate caloric values:

Leucine: 4.65 calories per gram

Isoleucine: 4.65 calories per gram

Valine: 4.64 calories per gram

The numbers above can be derived by taking the metabolizable energy values of the three amino acids using the three sets (1-3) and calculating their averages.

With the above caloric values in mind, this means that one gram of BCAAs at the typical 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine, respectively, contains around 4.65 calories, while 10 grams of BCAAs contain around 46.5 calories.

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Calories of BCAAs - Myolean Fitness

Adapted from: May and Hill (1990)

Why is my BCAA supplement labelled as having 0 calories?

Having established that BCAAs do, in fact, contain calories, it makes sense that your next question is:

“If BCAAs have calories, then why does the label on my BCAA supplement state 0 calories?”

The reason most supplement manufacturers don’t list the calories from BCAAs in their products is simply because they kind of have to, since:

  1. the FDA regulations state that supplement manufacturers can’t declare the protein content of a product when this only contains individual amino acids.
  2. the FDA regulations allow supplement manufacturers to calculate the caloric content of their products using a number of methods, including the Atawater method, which involves adding up the calories from protein (4 kcal/g), carbs (4 kcal/gram) and fats (9 kcal/gram).

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness - FDA1

Adapted from: FDA (2016)

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness - FDA2

Adapted from: FDA (2016)

Simply put, if a product only contains free form amino acids and no carbs or fats, it technically is listed as having 0 protein (and 0 carbs and fats, of course) and, therefore, 0 calories.

So there you have it!

The next time you see a debate on whether BCAAs have calories, help us do some myth-busting by sharing this article!

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  1. Wayne White 26/01/2018 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    If you look at the table you referenced, you referenced the wrong numbers. You should have done something like take an average of the metabolism energy listed in the same table to the right. The reason for this is that the nitrogen in the amino acids gets converted to urea, so the actual metabolism energy is less than the heat of combustion (heat generated by burning the material in oxygen).

    • Myolean Fitness 27/01/2018 at 1:13 am - Reply

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks, man! Good catch! 🙂

  2. Davon 18/02/2018 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    So since the numbers are wrong, is the calorie count of 60 wrong too?

    • Myolean Fitness 18/02/2018 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      Hi Davon,

      I’m not sure what you mean, mind rephrasing?

  3. Jakub 03/04/2018 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    So basically you are telling me that 1g of BCAA is 4.65 kcal, when we all “know” that 1g of protein is 4 kcal. Explain that master.

    • Myolean 03/04/2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      Hi Jakub,

      As per the cited research, the metabolizable energy of the three amino acids in free form (i.e. not as a complete protein) is slightly higher.

  4. Fat Mal 12/05/2018 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    So if I am on a 16:8 diet can I use bcaa’s during my fast period.

  5. Cliff 05/08/2018 at 4:06 am - Reply

    All the mumbo jumbo aside BCAA contain plenty of calories, your body knows it when you are taking them intra workout those calories are felt. I take a scoop at beginning of workout, a scoop intra and a scoop post and it makes a big difference in stamina and energy levels, 0 calories would make no difference.

    • Myolean 05/08/2018 at 4:48 pm - Reply

      Hey Cliff and thanks for your comment.

      Here’s a question: if you’re taking BCAAs for the stamina and energy, why not just take, say, dextrose instead? It will give you the same, if not more, stamina and energy, and it will do so at something like 1/100th of the cost.

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